The week has continued the recent trend of mild, damp and windy. The resounding memory of the week for many of us was an extremely deep low pressure system which brought exceptionally strong gale force winds across most of the country on the 28th. The forecast for the next few days looks like a repeat performance for many areas as a low pressure deepens out to the northwest.
As would be expected for a midwinter storm, the severe weather during the early part of the week proved to be rather uneventful from a birder's perspective. Easily the highlight was a superb adult Ross's Gull found sheltering at the northern end of the Plym Estuary in Devon on the 28th and still present today. This species is always popular with birders and few can resist the temptation to travel for this enigmatic Arctic species. Further information on Ross's Gulls in Britain can be found at www.birdguides.com/birdnews/article.asp?a=34, along with photographs of the Plym Estuary bird. Another Ross's Gull was reported from Hampshire on the 25th and could conceivably have been the same bird. A 1st-winter Bonaparte's Gull roosted at Pagham Harbour on the 31st and if accepted would be the fourth record for Sussex and the first since 1951. Other results of the storm on the 28th included both Storm and Leach's Petrel off Severn Beach, with a Leach's Petrel off St. Mary's. A maximum of six Balearic Shearwaters were seen passing Cornwall, whilst three Grey Phalaropes were seen off Somerset and another ended up inland at Rutland Water. The only other evidence of storm-blown seabirds were a handful of inland Kittiwakes.
As is typical of this time of year, many of the long-staying rarities remained. The American Golden Plover has been seen on a couple of occasions in Cornwall, and the Lesser Yellowlegs is still in Pembrokeshire. The White Stork in Derbyshire is tending towards a 'presumed escape' by protracting its residence on the local rugby field and another escaped bird was noted in Norfolk. The Great White Egret in Cheshire was last seen during the weekend. Not surprisingly, the Redhead remains in Glamorgan and the King Eider in Norfolk. Amongst the rarer gulls the Bonaparte's is still present in Cornwall and an American Herring Gull on Benbecula. The Hume's Warbler remains in Northumberland and an Arctic Redpoll has been seen intermittently in Norfolk. The lull of the 27th gave many Midlands birders the opportunity to witness a large northwesterly movement of Pinkfeet, with up to 2,000 noted at a couple of sites and a Shore Lark has been present at Pleasley Colliery in Derbyshire for most of the week. As always, further details of these birds can be found on Bird News Extra.
With Skylarks heard singing during the last few days, it is clear that for many species the breeding season is already upon us. Owls and herons will be among the first to lay eggs in the next few weeks, while other species pair up and begin nest building. We have recently seen several records of Red Kite, pairs of Barn Owls and Dartford Warbler appearing on other information services and various email lists. At BirdGuides we have deliberately taken the decision not to publish some of this information at this time of year, in case it jeopardises breeding attempts by some of the species concerned. The danger may not always come from eggers and falconers, as a steady procession of admiring birders may force the birds to move to less than optimum breeding habitats.
One such species is the Red Kite. We have received about 10 reports this week from areas close to where release schemes are centred. We are still placing these reports on our database, but they are not being published on our website. By doing this, such valuable information will not be lost and subscribers may have access to this data in the future. This information can also be accessed by County Recorders and by the people monitoring schemes such as the Red Kite and Osprey releases. Red Kites can easily be seen at 'honey-pot' sites such as Gigrin Farm, and so our actions should not prevent everyone enjoying these wonderful birds. Hopefully, this will explain why some of you may not have seen your reports published recently, and we hope you understand our chosen position. In the coming weeks, the same could be said for reports of several raptor species in particular and as the weeks progress records of certain species will not be published for the same reasons.
BirdGuides will continue to publish reports from well-known raptor watchpoints or from reserves where the birds are not under the same threats. We will also continue to publish reports of birds considered to be migrants. In short, please continue to send your reports as they are valuable, but we hope that you understand if we choose not to publish your report. We also welcome your continued vigilance of our website and ask you to point out, where necessary, records of birds that are in vulnerable locations as we welcome local input into our news service. Last year our efforts were co-ordinated with the RSPB, as they will be this year, but we strongly believe that the welfare of the birds come first over placing sensitive information on our news service, and we would like to think that local email groups and other information providers follow suit.